The Denver Broncos are feeling it.
There is still a lot of football to be played but the Broncos status as legitimate Super Bowl contender was validated Sunday night when the NFL’s best defense made Aaron Rodgers look ordinary, and the much-maligned Peyton Manning found the fountain of youth in the form of 340 passing yards.
Perhaps sensing his team is on the cusp, Denver general manager John Elway made a big move one day ahead of the trade deadline on Monday by acquiring two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, along with a 2016 seventh-round pick, for a pair of sixth-round selections, one in ’16 and another in ’17.
“We’re excited to add Vernon to the roster,” Elway said. “He’s a guy that adds great experience, great speed. He has been a team leader for the Niners for a long time. He’ll be a great addition, a big weapon for us because of the speed (he possesses).”
Considering Davis’ reputation, it was a stunningly light price for a player who had been quite the difference maker in San Francisco over the years and certainly a worthwhile gamble for Elway, who had been unable to replace the production of Julius Thomas, who fled the Rockies in the offseason for a big-money deal in Jacksonville.
Once upon a time Davis was one of the three or four best tight ends in football, who finished his time in the Bay Area with 441 receptions for 5,640 yards and 55 touchdowns in 139 regular-season games. The former No. 6 overall pick out of Maryland only upped his production when the stakes got bigger, adding 27 more catches for 600 yards with seven touchdowns in eight postseason encounters.
His peak was in the ’09 season when he put up career highs in receptions (78), receiving yards (965) and touchdowns (13). Davis also turned in another Pro Bowl campaign two seasons ago and was named second-team All-Pro after amassing 52 catches for 850 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The floor has dropped out from under the 2-6 49ers now, though, and Davis, who is in the last year of his current deal, was a near certainty to move on after this season anyway so even though late-round draft choices are unlikely to pan out, the idea of acquiring assets, long a staple in MLB and NBA, is starting to seep into the NFL’s way of thinking now that a younger generation is starting to garner power in certain cities.
Davis had just 18 catches for 194 yards through six games this season and had reportedly grown frustrated with the regression in embattled San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, even going so far as to criticize the signal caller in a team meeting, leading to a brief dust-up with veteran tackle Joe Staley.
Along with the Davis move, the Niners decided to bench Kaepernick Monday in favor of former Jaguars bust Blaine Gabbert. The long-tern plan, however, may be to get bad enough to ensure highly-regarded University of California quarterback Jared Goff, who currently plays about 50 miles away from Santa Clara, stays in the area.
“On behalf of the entire 49ers organization, I would like to thank Vernon for his decade of contributions to this team and our community,”San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “Not only has he contributed to some of the most memorable moments in franchise history, but he has also positively impacted the lives of many others through his efforts in the community. We wish Vernon and his family continued success in both football and life.”
On the surface this one it seems like a win-win for both organizations.
The Niners at least got something for a player who was on the final year of his deal but they had no real interest in bringing back. Meanwhile, although Davis is clearly on the downside the Broncos filled a need at a position that could really have a positive effect of Manning, whose strength at this point is obviously the underneath stuff.
“The key here is how quick can we get (Davis) involved, and I think we can do that very fast,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “That’s why we made the move, because we want to get him in here, get him as involved as we possibly can and help this offense continue to move forward.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the The Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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